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12 Week
Bluegrass Guitar
Improvising Course

Traditional Bluegrass Guitar Improvising

Practical Goal: A Good Jam!

This is a complete course for all levels with lots of material for everyone. The idea behind the Traditional Bluegrass Guitar Improvising Course really comes the love of the music and the joy there is for the music to be learned, taught, and shared in meaningful ways. This course is an unprecedented by ear learning experience that has been successfully completed by students of all levels from beginner to advanced. The way the teaching works is a synthesis of note-for-note, phrase-by-phrase explanation and the invitation for each picker to engage with their own creativity in a unique way. From the beginning, the emphasis is on understanding how to play the melody first. Students will create a solid foundation with each tune and then introduce modular devices and licks that build on each other to generate the core vocabulary of the course. For those who are just beginning, there is a 42 minute video teaching basic rhythm styles and runs in the most common keys to get you going. There is also a folded scale workout video to help get the motor running which will be the main technique engine of fluid up and down picking used throughout the whole course. From many traditional lenses, the roots of the Traditional Bluegrass Guitar Style can strongly be traced back to Mother Maybelle Carter, a seminal figure in the study – perhaps Earl Scruggs’ favorite guitar player whom he often emulated tastefully. Adapting Mother Maybelle’s perfect melody-strum based technique to a flatpack is the perfect place to start our journey.  The course weeks feature listening videos, demo videos from David McLaughlin, note-for-note and/or improv teaching videos from Christopher, and demo/practice videos at multiple speeds for practice.


Weeks 1/2 – If you learned nothing else but how to play in a style reminiscent of David McLaughlin, you would have done something very significant. One of the hallmarks, along with Mother Maybelle, is a penchant for strong and controlled tones and concepts, with enough variation and technical excellence to bring the best out of the instruments, tunes, and songs. David’s unique style is a perfect synthesis of all the greatest traditional guitar pickers. That’s why he is featured early on so students can get a firm grasp on how powerful the vocabulary and language he uses on “Goin Back’ can power the engine of so much music played in a G chord position which is easily moved up the neck with a capo. In weeks 1 and 2 students learn many of the core traditional devices that will see us through the end of the course (and possibly our lives!) Songs Explored: Wildwood Flower, Bury Me Beneath The Willow, Foggy Mountain Top, and Goin Back.

Week 3Basic Vocabulary for G. Week 3 further teaches codification of the vocabulary and main concepts that will be used to approach each workshop and week’s assignments. Here students start to understand how the arpeggios look and sound like in 1,4, and 5 and can already be be thinking about common tunes known that can be played in an eighth note style and then gradually add the upstroke, also called recovery stroke. Songs Explored: Nine Pound Hammer, Sittin' On Top of the World, Blue Ridge Cabin Home

Week 4 - This is where students start to put their understanding of kick-offs, speed efficiency, melodic modulation of guitar language and common repertoire all together with bluegrass standards. Now we’re in the flow! Songs Explored: Will the Circle Be Unbroken, I'll Fly Away, I Saw the Light

Week 5 - This week is the first deep dive into one of the pillars of traditional bluegrass guitar improvising, Bill Napier.  From his work with the Stanley Brothers to Napier and Moore and beyond – he’s a true flat picking genius in the bluegrass style and literally wrote Daybreak in Dixie, so students will have fun understanding more about what makes his contributions to the style and repertoire so important. Special guest James Stiltner teaches the mountain style of one of his heroes, from his neck of the woods in southwest Virginia. Songs Explored: Daybreak in Dixie, Mountain Dew

Week 6 - Week 6 will have students listening steady to hear more of how amazing Doc Watson’s style is and how it is one of the cornerstones of this study. The connection to the dance, solid rhythm, endless melodic variation, drive and character, stately and deliberately, yet somehow with a charming and disarming looseness while maintaining precision, Doc is a true master teacher.

Songs Explored: Black Mountain Rag, Beaumont Rag

Week 7 - Here students get wide open with the master of dynamic creativity, Don Reno. He shows students they don’t need a capo where they're going – mastery of the whole neck of the guitar in a tasteful and focused way. Don inspires thinking outside of the box to come up with the inside infinity. Songs Explored: Remington Ride, Country Boy Rock'n Roll

Week 8 Week 8 Bill Monroe blows minds with his impressionistic virtuosity. His guitar principles are largely understood stylistically because they are a bit esoteric.Many of his mandolin principles cross over leading us into fertile creative territory here within the vocabulary. The arrangement for Southern Flavor is a very practical melody based one that teaches a lot about how to play in open E. Old Daingerfield is one of the most challenging arrangements in the course because it is based directly off Bill’s mandolin lines. By learning the note-for-note arrangements carefully, it will inform students' improvising choices in an excellent way.

Songs Explored: Southern Flavor, Old Daingerfield

Week 9 - Time to dial it all back – David takes over and walks students through the beauty, relevance, importance, and advantages of minimalism as we study one of the great true masters of a minimalist style and an unsung guitar hero in general, Alton Delmore. Songs Explored: Brown’s Ferry Blues, Freight Train Blues

Week 10 - This week students will put their hearts and souls into all of it with Uncle George Shuffler. His ideas about energy, cross-picking, and the first five-frets are a library of Appalachian wisdom students will hike through and marvel at creative mountains to which he contributed. His compelling down-down-up cross picking lick is explained in detail with good exercises for learning to flow with the lick through G, C, and D. Songs Explored: Worried Man Blues, Will You Miss Me?

Week 11 - Week 11 is ready for the blaze on the trail ,Chubby Anthony, the real secret of hardcore traditional bluegrass guitar. Chubby was more known as a fiddler with the Stanley Brothers, but many know him as a legendary bluegrass flat picker with a scorching approaching and traditional appeal. He teaches students how to really drive it in the key of E. Foothills of Home teaches how to tastefully improvise with the melody in G with swagger and true bluegrass style. Songs Explored: Georgia Bound,

Foothills of Home

Week 12 - Week 12 is a self-guided cumulative review through the common repertoire. Focusing on Blue Ridge Cabin Home, Salt Creek, and the Gospel songs as core jam session material will get you in good shape for your next jam. Students also take a look at some more Monroe licks on the guitar and introduce the concept of sliding arpeggios to open up the neck.


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